Of the many descriptions of Passover we read from the Torah this week, this might be my favorite:
“And when, in time to come, your son asks you, saying ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘It was with a mighty hand that the Lord brought us out of Egypt, the house of bondage’” (Exodus 13:14).
Moses instructs the children of Israel to observe the laws of Passover once they enter into the land of Israel. I can’t help but think of Moses imploring them not to forget their history in Egypt:
“You came all this way, this land of milk and honey is open to us. Please don’t forget that it was only with God’s help that we became free. Don’t forget how hard life was for us in Egypt. When we go into the land of our ancestors to build the society of our dreams, let’s remember that our past contained great challenge and that our job now is to create a society where all are welcome, safe. God was with us then and with us now. God will never finish being our God.”
How quickly we can forget our history when we take on new endeavors. Moses tells us that it is precisely when we start new initiatives that we must remember the pains of our past, presumably both to celebrate the victories of overcoming them, and also as a reminder to live the future differently.
Transformation isn’t easy. I’ve often been curious why the Torah keeps mentioning the strength (or mightiness) of God’s hand. We might think that in order to transform, in order to leave slavery and move into a better future we must be strong, as it takes great strength to form new habits, new beliefs and new actions that lead to a better life. If God needed to be strong to take us out of Egypt, how much the more so do we need to be strong when we go forward into our new land?
Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, used to say that transformation is like changing the tire on a car while you’re still driving it.
Our challenge, just like that of our ancestors, is to find ways amid the chaos and business of our everyday lives, to elevate our consciousness and to find new paths forward that inspire us to happier, healthier and holier ways of living.
As we near the end of Passover, I invite you to ask yourself a different set of four questions:
Where am I still enslaved?
What do I need to be free?
Looking back on my past, can I see God’s mighty hand helping me into a new life?
Do I still believe that a better future is possible? If not, why not? If so, what can I do to make it happen?
Rabbi Ilan Glazer is a freelance rabbi, coach, speaker, teacher and host of the Torah of Life podcast.